Bryan Cranston has no attachment to an outcome

Caricature of Bryan Cranston by Dan Holst SoelbergSomething has been stuck in my head for a few days. I was in my studio one evening and I found a YouTube video of Marc Maron interviewing Bryan Cranston from 2011.

This YouTube video is from Maron’s podcast, WTF. Cranston is talking about the typical progression of an actor’s career and relating it to his own, and then this beautiful moment happens:

Marc Maron: Were there points in the career where you were like, this isn’t happening fast enough or this isn’t working out?

Bryan Cranston: No.

Marc: Really?

Bryan: No.

Marc: That’s amazing, sort of, determination.

Bryan: Well, I think it’s because I didn’t have any attachment to an outcome. I think when people enter this business with that, like, you’ll hear people say, “I’m going to give it a year. I’m going to give it a good, solid year, and if I haven’t made it by then…” , and I’m saying, what do you mean? What’s “make it?” What does that mean, “made it?” Everybody has their different idea. But that’s attaching your life to an outcome. But if you love this artform and you commit your life to it, then all you really want is opportunity to be able to make a living. It’s never A to B to C to D. It’s always a different way.

That’s what has been stuck in my head: Bryan Cranston describing how someone gives their life’s passion “a shot” before giving up on it forever. I just picture a vibrant and smiling young actor ready to take on the world at the outset of his acting career, and then flash forward to same person twelve months later with slumped shoulders and a defeated scowl, shuffling off to a job that he will hate and resent for the rest of his life. All because he made up an arbitrary goal with an even more arbitrary deadline that he’s (also arbitrarily) decided will define the rest of his life.

Cranston points out the stupid trap so many of us build around ourselves. We take this beautiful, pure thing that we love to do and we mess it up with self-criticism, comparison with others, and a lot of rules about how to achieve it.

In my own experience, this rings so true. Starting something new means that any goal I define is likely loaded with misconceptions and misguided assumptions.

Failure is just a dumb thing that you tell yourself to believe. The good news is you don’t have to. I like Cranston’s approach: commit your life to something you love right now, and don’t attach yourself to an outcome.

Before I end this post, I thought I’d give a bit of a teaser for my new book. I’m being careful with how much I reveal, so bear with me. This is a photo of all the book’s finished drawings in a stack on my studio floor. I want to show you more so stay tuned.

New book artwork

This is it! All the artwork for my new book is in this stack of illustration boards.


Farley Mowat

Farley Mowat caricature by Dan Holst SoelbergI wonder what the world knows of Farley Mowat? Canadians will miss him. He died last Tuesday. Mowat’s books “Lost in the Barrens” and “Curse of the Viking Grave” connected me to our Canadian arctic when I was a boy. I later watched the wonderful film Never Cry Wolf, adapted from Mowat’s novel of the same name. His depiction of life in the north was so rich because he lived there for several years. When I was twelve, I was lucky enough to visit Iqaluit briefly en route to Greenland. I was part of a two-week student exchange program with Greenlandic students from Ilulissat, and so I experienced a bit of arctic living in the deep-freeze of March. I’m sure dog sledding over the frozen landscape in subzero temperatures seemed more romantic to me because of Farley Mowat. My memories of Greenland are definitely rose-tinted.

CBC radio aired a 2008 interview with Mowat this past Saturday. Here it is. It’s a great little insight to a man who had the ability to attract as much adoration as derision.

In my home and native land, tributes to Farley Mowat abound. This is mine.


Writing, language & Stephen Fry

Dan Holst Soelberg's caricature drawing of Stephen Fry

My caricature drawing of Stephen Fry

My mind is on language at the moment. I am in the midst of expanding a story outline into a proper draft of text that will eventually become a new book. This stage of writing is both exciting and filled with doubt. Is a phrase too obvious? On the other hand, have I left too much out? Simply choosing the right word can set off a whole series of ideas that affect how the book will feel for the reader. After all, a book is revealed as one reads, so every new word is coloured by the previous. I’m constantly throwing out a word in favour of another and reciting the sentence aloud to hear its new shape and linguistic form. I am consciously trying to, as Stephen Fry put it, “yoke impossible words together for the sound sex of it.” Stephen Fry spoke these words in his 2008 podcast on language. There was also a fantastic little viral video made with a segment of his podcast that includes this phrase. Take a break from this article and watch it right now.

Fry possesses a staggering depth of knowledge that dwarfs my own, but I share his sentiments on the subject of language. Fry has a passion for language that is contagious and sometimes intimidating. Why intimidating? Because he has strong opinions and downright condemnation for pedants who use their knowledge of language to wage battles about ‘right’ language and the rules that govern it. And this is why he steals my maverick heart. Stephen Fry has the presence of mind to understand that the purpose of language is not to motivate arguments about the correctness of its application or promote an elite rank that denounces certain thought for violating rules. Fry asks, “Is the idea of purifying the dialect of the tribe a poetic ideal or nonsensical snobbery.” He understands that language is a tool meant to connect us and communicate ideas. The only reason we have rules is to sharpen the tool.

However, rules tend also to stagnate language. Conventional language is primarily good for conveying conventional thought. Someone expressing an original voice has every right to take considerable poetic license and rip convention to shreds. Rules of language aren’t really rules, so there is no right or wrong. If an idea or emotion is communicated more effectively by breaking a rule, it justifies itself.

There isn’t an eternal rulebook for language that has passed through generations since the dawn of its utterance. Those who argue for maintaining the sacred integrity and eternal purity of language have it wrong. Look at published texts that are over 100 years old and you’ll see just how wrong. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, is a good example. Mostly because it’s within my arm’s reach at the moment. Outmoded spelling and punctuation abounds. Far from stagnant, language is dynamic and evolving. Its present state is simply the most now stage in its evolution.

People who argue for strict adherence to rules don’t get it. They aren’t swept up in the sound sex of language. They just like to argue. Arguing and being right is terribly important for so many people. Oh, how they miss out on so much fun! I prefer poets and artists who find unbounded joy in stretching language to its elastic potential.

I do believe in understanding rules before you break them. Having an informed mind gives one a position of authority. Breaking a rule for no particular reason or goal in mind is meaningless. Knowing a language rule and breaking it intentionally for a desired effect can potentially create profound meaning.

Here’s hoping I am on the verge of crafting profound meaning. Back to work…